Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hybrid Corn Seed

20140829-30 0086
While driving along Indiana State Road 28 near Tipton, my wife and I spotted a new type of crop in the fields. It was too short to be corn and too tall and leafy to be soybeans. Then it occurred to me that it was corn with the tassels cut off. So they are growing hybrid corn seed.What we are seeing are the female plants that have had their tassels removed. These are the ears that will be harvested.

Walking along the end of the field, we see that every fifth row has been cut down. Those would have been the male plants. That is, the tassels were left on those plants. After the pollination season is over, the male plants are destroyed so that the female plants can be harvested with a wide corn row header without picking any of the unwanted self-polinated ears. It also stops the consumption of nitrogen, water, and other nutrients in the soil by the plants that are no longer useful after they have dropped their pollen.

Fortunately, before I typed anything more, I found a web page that explains how the detasseling is done. Manufactures are still developing better detasseling machines. That is, machines that achieve a better percentage by adjusting the height of the puller using a "vision system." In the 1960s, corn seed producers developed plants in which the male part was sterile. But that variety developed a problem with a fungus so producers went back to detasseling the plants. Now Pioneer has isolated a gene that causes plants to retain their pollen so the expense of detasseling can again be avoided. (Update: I believe this video segment is of a detasseler.)

When I discovered the Schultz Turf & Forage Seed Co., I was surprised how little storage they had. I had assumed that corn seed would require much more storage. Later I learned that they did not do corn. When I drove past a Remington Seeds facility near US-24 and I-65 in Indiana, my assumption that corn seed would need a lot of storage was confirmed. The complex was big enough that I went to the next drives available along the road on the west and east sides to get the whole plant. And many of the fields in this area, including the two in the pictures, are growing female only plants.

20140921 0075, west side of the facility

East side of the facility.

Even though it was a Sunday, I noticed that trucks were entering and leaving the facility. In one of my closeups I spotted a truck unloading facility to the right of the tall building. More on that latter. The company started here in Remington, IN, but it has expanded to several locations. Below is an aerial view of this facility.


I noticed across the fields toward the north another building complex. So I took US-231 north to get back on I-65 and passed a DEKALB seed plant.

I was intimidated by the "visitors have to register" sign. So I drove past the plant and then walked back to take pictures. Even with a wide angle lens, it took a couple of pictures to get everything.

Again, note all of the trucks on a Sunday in late September. This plant is big enough that this satellite image is half the scale of the above satellite image of the Remington Seeds plant. When I zoomed closer in the satellite picture, it looks like they can unload 8 trucks at the same time. I could not find any scales. I think that is because the farmers are contracted.

On my way back to the car, I was shocked to see that the spillage along the side of the road was cobs instead of just kernels. That means they did not use a combine to harvest the corn. Instead, they used a corn picker. I didn't even know they still made them. Now I'll have to look for corn pickers, as well as detasseling machines, when I visit farm dealers. I found a picture on the Remington Seeds web site that confirms that they use pickers.
Remington Seeds
Basically the big buildings in the seed plants are corn cribs that use fans instead of slots in the walls to create the air flow that is needed to dry the corn. The reason why I saved the closeup of the truck unloading facility till now is that it helps confirm the trucks are carrying ears of corn instead of kernels.

Update: a comment I left on a harvest-corn posting in response to the question:
I was driving in northern Indiana today and saw some corn fields that had the tops of the corn stalks cut off, the whole field(several acres) were evenly cut. Why do you think it was cut this way? The ears were still on the lower part of the stalks.
You are seeing the female plants of hybrid seed corn production that have had their  tassels removed. Depending on the season when you see the detasseled fields, about every fifth row will have its tassels. Those are the male plants. Before the corn is picked as ears, NOT with a combine, the male plants will be destroyed so that their ears do not end up in the harvest. The combination of detasseling the female plants and destroying the male plants before picking ensures that only cross-pollinated ears are harvested.
This farmer has more female rows between two male rows. The video shows a machine that destroys the male rows before the corn is picked. I can't understand the language in the audio, but I can understand the visual. Note the narrow track wheels so that it they can run between the female rows.

Screenshot form video
Every fifth raw was male. They evidently leave the shucks on the ears. Is this to help protect the kernels from being damaged by the elevators and cart dumping? Or can't the pickers shuck fast enough to handle 12 rows?

The corn cobs can be ground up and sold.

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